Ten Great Books to Take Your Mind Off COVID-19

Don’t you love a good book? Whether you bathe in the bloody world of bigotry and vampires with Octavia Butler, explore a new practice, books have it all. There are too many books to love and this list is designed to distract, absorb and focus your attention. Well-written and fun, provocative and insightful, here’s a short list for your COVID-19 stay at home.

A Confederacy of Dunces by the tragic John Kennedy Toole, who won the Pulitzer Prize. You’ll laugh so hard you’ll need some of the extra toilet paper you’ve been stockpiling.

IMG_5656Reminiscent of current times, the hero of this enthralling historical fiction, survives the plague and goes on to bust the ultimate glass ceiling: Catholic Pope. Pope Joan, exquisitely takes you through the middle ages, making you grateful for modern sexism. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the events of Donna Woolfolk Cross’ page-turner really happened.

In the Land of White Death: An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic is the true adventures of Valerian Albanov’s unintentional arctic quest. That he survives the impossible journey on a scale unimaginable to most of us is made sweetly harrowing by Russian officer’s beautiful prose, written in his dairy and saved for posterity.

Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall On Your Knees will  first break, then break open, then re-break your heart open. This laugh, cry, turn-the-page novel describes the personal costs of being a transitional character.

Jack Kornfield’s guide to mindfulness offers up small meditations in his workbook The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace. This time of self-isolation can be turned into the space for self-reflection, healing and growth.

Become an expert of the undertakings of underworld with Anne Rice’s juicy and irreverent read: The Vampire Lestat. This fast-paced is speculative fiction at its most delicious. So loud, sexy and powerful, you may want to read the entire series and then watch the movies afterward.

Katherine Dunn’s weird and wild masterpiece of creation looks at how social insulation can lead to annihilation. From start to finish, Geek Love is the brutal story and definition of “toxic family”. Home-spun freak carnival is the backdrop for this home-grown American fiction about a transient family making their own sideshows attractions to survive.

Audre Lorde’s timeless essay collection Sister Outsider still proves relevant in the Me-Too era and the current surge of xenophobia and strife we’re experiencing. Lorde’s wisdom continues to be a balm for souls who hunger for impassioned prose funded by hunger for social-justice.

Witty and sleek, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov brings a fresh take on an old Faustian tale. It’s a short book, but vivacious, smart and

Beloved by our Toni Morrison—poetry, prose, history, magic realism wound tight with collective social-historical memory. You can spend time with our beloved you get ahold of the audio recording read by Morrison herself. t Pulitzer?

If you still looking for something else to read, try my essay about social-justice warrior Ernestine Rose in Fierce: Essays by and about Dauntless Women, edited by Karyn Kloumann. This anthology of 13 brilliant essays earned us a spot in the non-fiction finals for BookLife where we’ve earned 10 /10 in every category so far.

Inner Outsider: The Necessity of Art (Part V)

 

But what of imagination? When the completion of a thing, a work, a compulsion burned out in form from within into the world, made manifest for the world to see, a spell descends.

 

It is said that humans are the inventors of the animal world—the king of kings. Crows and ravens make objects of beauty, juxtaposing our discard with stolen and indigenous artifacts. It’s as if there is not enough art in nature for these black birds. We, no less than the crow, must also continue to integrate, overcome and pacify our environment. We do it with art. That is why we object to broken windows, discarded people—anything that reminds us that we are not in charge. Disorder corrupts the notion of control. We like our boxes neat. The first thing that is denied the poor is art, cut out like a vital organ, and grafted into the institutions of the affluent.

 

img_1585
Bouguereau: A Girl Defending Herself against Eros (The Getty)

But give us a song, a poem, a wall or a canvas, and in that opening we will pour our souls, in blood or colors, out as if we could pay our fare in creation. The great artists of our time and before have known this. They have not kowtowed to the influence of means, driven by the force within, the powerful Beast that must be silenced if the earth will continue to spin on her great axis. This can be said of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Michael Jackson, Vincent van Gogh, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sohei Nishino, Frida Kahlo, Marguerite Duras, Leo Tolstoy, Ai Weiwei, YSL, Nina Simone, Ingrid Bergman, Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, Misty Copeland, Alvin Ailey, …truly, there is no room in this essay to name them all. When we awaken to this reality, it is easy to see that art drives civilization forward. It is the fuel and the engine; the fire and the wood.

 

img_1763

Of course, I may be wrong.

Definitions: The Necessity of Art (Part I)

I have spent years looking at color and studying history through the lens of art, attempting to make the world around myself beautiful. Certainly, what we create is deeply influenced by what we see: the fragmentation or wholeness of life begins within. My walls burst with a vibrancy I believe reflects my deepest nature. The collective images around me emerge into a singular experience of my own story, retold.

Image result for toni morrison images
Writer Toni Morrison

In times of despair, art is no luxury. Essential to the healing of the psyche, beauty in her many forms is a conduit for soothing inflamed pathways, a distraction from our own external or internal whirls, a meditation on purpose. Through our eyes, the story of the extraordinary other, the Beloved, is transmuted into wordlessness, a state of suspended ego. Go there.

 

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”    ~ Toni Morrrison

Evolving Forms of Entertainment

Thank G-d for television, Netflix, cable, video games and movie theaters. Remember when lynching Black Americans was a form of entertainment? During the days of Jim Crow law, after Emancipation, our government allowed White Americans to kill black people with impunity. Some of them even mailed photographs with family members and friends gathered around the defiled bodies, subverting decency, undermining justice and using the federal mail system to send evidence of their crimes. To be fair, some White Americans were also lynched outside of the formal judicial process, but those murders seldom involved the nudity and corporal mutilation that were common singularities of their Black counterparts.

img_1735
Lynching-photos postcards from the book Without Sanctuary

Don’t take my word for it. Learn American History. We have a complex story that needs to be examined, discussed and remembered. Otherwise, we may just repeat the same mistakes.

img_1737
                                Thank you for remembering, James Allen, Hilton Als,                                  Congressman John Lewis    and   Leon F. Litwack

img_1736

Celebrating Winning: 2016’s National Book Awards

img_1576
Book Art

You get to live your dream. Stay on task with your passion, and do the work you are called to do. Here’s some inspiration from The Atlantic about the National Book Awards winners. The entire crew of fabulous writers, and now winners, were congratulated, but the moving words of John Lewis, winner of the Young People’s Literature award, are to be remembered. (I’ll let him tell it.)

 

Enjoy, my friends!